Teen Librarian Toolbox
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True Confessions of an Audio Book Virgin (an audio review of Rotters and Scowler by Daniel Kraus and tips for highlighting audio books in your collection)

I am fairly new to audio books.  Not as a supporter, I have always understood their value and been a huge supporter of audio books.  I have just never personally been a listener.  In part, it was probably because I could take my kids to school and walk to work in my previous location – all within about 15 minutes.  There simply wasn’t time or a need.

Fast forward to now.  I have a 45 minute commute 3 times a week to my library. Sometimes I listen to NPR or music, but I have recently started listening to audio books on occasion.

It began with Delirium by Lauren Oliver.  It was one of the few YA titles my small branch library had, and as you know I became a huge fan of the series.  There were times when the Tween and I would want to just keep driving because we didn’t want to turn it off.

Next came book one in the Gallagher Girl series by Ally Carter, which my tween loved as well.  She has continued reading the books in the series on her own after having been introduced to it via audio.

And more recently, I listened to both Rotters and Scowler by Daniel Kraus on audio.  This was an interesting experiment for me as it was the first time that I listened to books that I had already read and was a huge fan of.  I embraced this experiment with gusto because it gave me some real genuine grounds for comparison.  Listening to the books . . . it was such a different experience.

It helps that Rotters and Scowler both have a really great reader, Kirby Heyborne.  A good reader makes all the difference and Kirby Heyborne is truly awesome (and deservedly award winning).  Both Rotters and Scowler are about some very down on their luck teens; life has not been kind to either of them and Kirby (we’re on a first name basis now apparently) really brings that pathos to life.  When you read the words on the page, you tend to hear it in your voice, but hearing it in another voice – a voice more experienced at bringing nuance and performance to a story – there is new breath and life in these characters; there is heartache and terror in all the right moments in ways I couldn’t have even imagined in my head.

Scowler is the story of 19-year-old Ryan Burke and his father, who is a monster hiding behind the mask of a man.  Throughout the book his dad has a vocal tic, a tell if you will, that appears on the page as “Hmmmmm hm hm hmmmmm. Hmmmm hm hm hmmmm.”  When you read it on the page, it’s hard to imagine in your mind’s eye what is happenng.  But Heyborne hums this line over and over again with such a powerful, subtle menace that it suddenly clicks into place for you.  Marvin’s tell speaks of his arrogance and his power over others, and it is the subtle horror movie music that happens and lets you know that something sinister is on its way.  Hearing this element of the story put it in context and gave it a clarity that I did not fully comprehend reading it because I was unsure of how it should sound simply staring at the words.

Rotters and Scowler are both disturbing stories, and I mean that in a good way.  They also resonate because in the midst of being entertainingly horrific, they also remind of the human experience.  Rotters is unique in that Kraus sets up to like a character and then drags him to the depths hell and makes him almost completely despicable.  I have said it before, but it is such a bold storytelling device.  Plus there is the grave robbing angle, which I had never read before (although there is some grave robbing in The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey).  I felt sucked in so much more listening to the audio because Heyborne really gives Joey Crouch pathos and gravity.  And then the menace . . . so well done.

During Reluctant Reader week, we mentioned that listening to audio books is a good tool to use with reluctant readers.  I noticed that I listened more closely than I read and that I was tempted to skip some of the more descriptive elements, I was definitely more absorbed in the story and felt a heightened emotional connection with the main characters.  These two audio books would be great reads for struggling teens who like a little bit of terror in their books, think Stephen King.  I will say, they are definitely for more mature teens because of language and violence.  As I mentioned, the Rotters audio is the 2012 Odyessy Award Winner presented by the American Library Association.

5 Tips for Using Audio Books in Your Collection:

1. Create ways to do face out shelving with your audio books in the same way that you do with your print books.

2.  Do displays where you put the book and audio book on display together.

3.  Put together hand outs and electronic resources that educate parents and teens on the benefits of listening to audio books.  Here are some good starting places: Reading Rockets, Research and Articles on the Benefits of Audio Books for Young People

4.  When you are doing a craft program, have an audio book playing in the background.  Participants can listen as they craft.

5.  When doing general theme displays, don’t forget to include appropriate audio books.

A recent edition of Library Journal had a great article on highlighting audio books in your library. Check it out.

Rotters and Scowler, produced by Listening Library, an imprint of Random House Audio Publishing Group, Random House, Inc., written by Daniel Kraus and narrated by Kirby Heyborne. 
Rotters audio ISBN: 9780449014950
Scowler audio ISBN: 9780385368353

The tween and I are now listening to The Paradise Trap by Catherine Jinks on audio. 

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